How do you know if you’re doing something wrong if there’s no specific “right” way to do it? Maybe it isn’t until later on, when it’s too late, that you realize you did it wrong and the ramifications are in full gear. It’s too late to take it back, too late to make it right. Perhaps it’s not too late to change the direction of things, but overcompensation is really not the way to go.
Sometimes I wonder why people become parents. Is it conceit? Do we want to have extensions of ourselves walking the earth so that when we die, we still live on? Is it because some of us have an innate need to nurture? Are we purposely creating something that we know/hope will love us? Some people have children and then realize that perhaps they shouldn’t have done that. Oops. Too late. Some people have kids and work to fit themselves squarely into that mold of perfect parent; unselfishly devoting their lives to their offspring, giving up part of their lives so that the lives of their children may be perfect. Extremes, either way, and both end up having detrimental effects on the kids.
I suppose the in-between is where most of us lie. We have kids because it’s what we, as humans, are supposed to do. We procreate, we keep the earth going, we keep the world spinning, so to speak. We have kids because we want to be parents, we want to create little beings to give our love to, to watch them grow and live and learn and laugh and become fine adults. It’s pride, it’s need, it’s nature. I have never seen someone answer the question “why did you have children?” without stumbling over their words at first. Becoming parents is not a matter of survival. At least not for us, immediately and personally. For the human race and the long run, yes. But we have children for no reasons but our own personal ones.
I don’t think there’s a parent out there who hasn’t at least once said “Why did I do this?” It usually comes at a time when you are throwing your hands up in desperation, letting out that deep, resigned sigh that embodies your exhaustion, frustration, aggravation and worry. Being a parent means being in a semi-constant state of anxiety; no matter what stage in life your children are at, there is going be a bundle of worries attached to it. Some of those worries are the staples of parenting; Is my kid developing properly? Is she saying the right amount of words for her age? Is he playing well with others? Is he doing ok in school? Is he healthy? Is she succumbing to peer pressure? Is he going to make the team? When you are new to parenting, you think the anxiety and worries disappear as your kids get older. When they can finally articulate what’s hurting them, when they can fend for themselves a bit, when you no longer have to worry about baby proofing everywhere you go, it all gets better, right? No. Because then you worry about their future, and how you’re going to pay for college and they’ll start driving and you’ll stay up late because you can’t sleep until you hear the car pull in the driveway.
Then there are worries that are as unique as each family is individual. They are your worries alone and they are a culmination of every move you have made as a parent, and they can all fit into this one question: “Did I do it wrong?”
Sometimes that answer is going to be yes. Yes, you did it wrong. There are no perfect parents. We all make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes are small and insignificant. Sometimes they loom large and change the direction of lives. Either way, it’s a bit hard to admit you made those mistakes. It’s hard to stand back and say, yes, I did it wrong.
I can’t change what I did years ago. I can’t change the fact my marriage to their father failed, that I suffered from a deep, dark depression for at least two formative years of their lives, that I overcompensated for those years to an alarming degree, that I stayed in a bad groove and made bad choices that clearly affected them to this day. What I can do, and what I am only able to do now, is to stand back and say yes, I did it wrong. Now what can I do to make it right? I am not the first parent to do it wrong. I am not the first mother to beat herself up over what she did years ago. I am not the first to make mistakes and try to rectify them and have that rectification end up being another mistake. Parenting is a live and learn experience. It’s trial by error. It’s how you correct those errors and use that learning experience that matters most.
Yes, I did it wrong. And it’s in my nature to hone in on those wrongs, to zoom in very close up on what I didn’t do correctly and to think that all those wrongs negates everything I did right. Never mind that my kids are good kids. They’ve never been in trouble. They are polite and kind and I’ve had other parents tell me how proud I should be of them. I did it wrong, but I must have done it right, as well. It’s just hard to see that when I see my daughter’s OCD in action or when I keep seeing my son’s tendency to be anti-social and I wonder how much of that is me. How much of that is from my mistakes?
There’s no handbook that comes with parenting. There’s a basic set of innate guidelines that everyone knows to follow. Feed them. Clothe them. Make sure they don’t stick their fingers in electrical outlets. Love them.
I did all that. I followed the guidelines that were obvious. Then I read books and sought advice from other parents and followed my instincts. But no one tells you about the curve balls. There’s no parenting magazine that covers what to do when your life is falling apart and your ability to care is being swallowed up by a black cloud. There’s no one that can tell you the exact right thing to do when everything changes and you don’t know how to deal with it, because your situation isn’t someone else’s. No one has lived your life, with your children, in your home and all the well meaning advice in the world isn’t going to apply specifically to what you are going through.
So you wing it. And sometimes you get it wrong. Along the way, you get some things right and you hope that those things can carry you through the trials and errors. As long as you realize that it’s never too late to turn things around. It might be too late to take away those wrongs, but it’s not too late to fix the outcome of them.
22 years and two kids into this parenting thing and I’m still learning something new every day. I’m still figuring this out. There are plenty of days when I wonder if I wasn’t mean to be a mother, if I wasn’t really cut out for this life. But it’s a bit too late to take it back. I wouldn’t, anyhow. Despite all the anxieties and worries and misgivings, there’s a lot of joy and love to be had in being a parent. There’s a lot of joy and love to give, too. I think that is why most of us have kids.
Yes, I did it wrong. But I did it right, too. And I think the greatest lesson I learned is to not try to make up for the past, but to figure out how to do it right for the future.